Former F1 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen has dashed the hopes of his legions of fans by confirming that he will be absent from the grand prix grid in 2010 – and whilst he 'still has ambitions' in the top flight, should a competitive proposition not be forthcoming in 2011, he reveals, he may never return.
Raikkonen's manager Steve Robertson told a Finnish newspaper yesterday that having failed to reach satisfactory terms with McLaren-Mercedes – the team regarded as his only viable option for next season – the 30-year-old would be taking a lucrative year out, ahead of a potential comeback in 2011 with Red Bull Racing [see separate story – click here
It has since been speculated that the Finn might be in talks with Mercedes Grand Prix (formerly Brawn GP) with a view to partnering Nico Rosberg at Brackley in place of 2009 F1 World Champion Jenson Button – the man who pipped him to the second seat at McLaren – but Raikkonen has insisted that is not the case, as he believes the Stuttgart manufacturer is looking for two German drivers to constitute its line-up.
Acknowledging that McLaren – for whom the 18-time grand prix-winner raced from 2002 to 2006, triumphing nine times along the way and arguably being unlucky to miss out on the ultimate laurels in 2003 and 2005 – was his 'best opportunity to win races and challenge for the drivers' championship' in 2010, Raikkonen has re-iterated Robertson's comments that he will not
be racing in F1 next year...if indeed ever again.
“I could not agree terms with McLaren,” he told the official F1 website, “so I have decided to take a one-year sabbatical. I felt McLaren offered the best opportunity to win races and challenge for the drivers' championship, and if that would not work the one-year break is the result.
“My management held many meetings with McLaren. Unfortunately, certain issues could not be resolved. We knew in the last three or four days that it would be highly unlikely a deal could be reached. Now we know it is definite. I have not held talks with Brawn; I feel they will run two German drivers next year now that Mercedes are involved.
“To be honest, I will only return in 2011 if a competitive drive is available. I achieved my dream of winning the drivers' world championship [and] I would like to win another championship, but I can only do that if I have a competitive car. It's that simple.
“I do not want to race just to make up the numbers – that does not interest me – but there's a lot of time until [2011), so let's wait and see what happens in the months ahead.”
Raikkonen was ditched by Ferrari in favour of Fernando Alonso, following three campaigns with the Scuderia
that had yielded nine victories, five pole positions, 26 podium finishes and title glory in his first season at Maranello. The Espoo native insisted that despite much criticism regarding his financial demands – what was believed to be the insurmountable stumbling-block in his negotiations with McLaren, with some suggesting he had simply priced himself out of the market – a driver of his calibre is worth his weight in gold.